I love a good loaf. I can happily subsist on little else than a hearty granary, a wedge of cheese and a pickled onion for days on end. I’d rather go without than eat a slice of bread you can squash into a pea-sized ball. I am in awe of the pink, green, blue and purple rainbow bread bakeries sell here, but after an unwelcome experience with a sugary baguette, I resolved to bake my own. After a few inadequate attempts using whole-wheat atta flour, someone mentioned that Supersave sold proper bread flour. It’s a bit of a trek without a car, but I figured it was worth investigating so commandeered an obliging set of wheels. Wow. Three bags of Waitrose organic malted grain bread flour please. And so forth my monthly pilgrimage commenced.
It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and panda-in-crime baked dragon bread for breakfast. What is dragon bread? Why, a loaf of bread shaped like a dragon of course. A wholegrain cake of sorts. Why a dragon? Dragons are everywhere you look in S.E. Asia (especially Hong Kong), so I suppose that I became rather fond of the fabled beasts as a child and it kind of escalated. The solid brass six-arm dragon chandelier my friends picked up for me at a second-hand shop in Oostende is testimony to that – but it was a bargain at £30. But, I digress, dragon bread it was and what better way to devour a dragon tail than dipping it in molten cheese – a baked Camembert to be precise.
Need I say more? It is simplicity itself. Studded with garlic and rosemary with a scattering of fennel seeds and chilli flakes, it’s ready and oozing in less than ten minutes. Best served with a robust red, though on this occasion a wee dram or two of Caol Ila sufficed…
RECIPE: BAKED CAMEMBERT WITH DRAGON BREAD DIPPERS
For the baked camembert
A round of camembert
A couple of sprigs of rosemary (if available)
Thin slivers of garlic
A scattering of crushed fennel seeds
A scattering of dried chilli flakes
For the dragon a.k.a. granary bread
500g of malted grain bread flour
A teaspoon of fast-acting dried yeast
A teaspoon of salt
300ml of lukewarm water
INSTRUCTIONS: Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add in the tepid water to form a ball of sticky dough. You may need slightly more or slightly less depending on the humidity, etc. Unlike pastry, bread dough is better wetter, but you don’t want it sticking to your fingers. Knead the dough for ten minutes until smooth and elastic, adding more flour to the worktop if required. Shape into a ball and leave to rise in the mixing bowl, covered by a damp tea-towel, until doubled in size. This only takes half an hour in my tropical kitchenette but it can take longer in colder climes, so leave it in a warm place (like an airing cupboard) if you’re in a rush. Now, it is time to knock it back gently by pressing down on the dough using your knuckles. You’re not undoing all your hard work as this step evenly distributes the bubbles of carbon dioxide gas for a more uniform second rise. Sculpt the bread into a dragon (optional) or whatever shape you fancy and leave it to rise for a second time on a baking tray. Pop the bread into a hot oven (200°C or 180°C for fan-assisted) after it has doubled in size for half an hour or so. It’s easy to see if the bread is done as the base will sound hollow if tapped.
Remove all packaging from the camembert and stud it with slivers or garlic and rosemary sprigs. Slide the cheese back into its wooden box to help it keep its shape or onto a baking tray, if it is made of cardboard. Scatter over some crushed fennel seeds and dried red chilli flakes and bake in a moderately hot oven for ten minutes. The cheese should feel soft and squidgy to the touch. I don’t know what you’re waiting for: dive in and enjoy.